Australian leaders to meet on vaccine plan to speed up roll-out

The government is battling criticism over delays in its vaccination strategy.
The government is battling criticism over delays in its vaccination strategy.PHOTO: AFP

CANBERRA (BLOOMBERG) - Australian federal and state leaders will discuss ways to speed up the country's coronavirus vaccination roll-out and shift to alternatives to the AstraZeneca inoculation in their upcoming meeting, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday (April 18).

Current vaccine supplies are sufficient to cover initial stages of the programme currently under way, which target front-line workers and the elderly, Mr Morrison said.

The national Cabinet meeting on Monday will focus on a strategy for the next phase, and will discuss blood-clotting cases associated with the AstraZeneca jab, which has led to Australia's immunisation advisory group recommending the government switch to the Pfizer shot for people under 50.

"The AstraZeneca vaccination is safe and recommended for use for those aged over 50, there's no change to that," Mr Morrison said at a press conference in South Australia.

The government is targeting "the back part of the year" for the roll-out, he said, adding that Australia has secured additional Pfizer doses.

"In quarter four, if we have sufficient stocks of these vaccines with the Novavax vaccine, then that will lend itself to other vaccination models, particularly mass vaccination," Mr Morrison said.

The government is battling criticism over delays in its vaccination strategy, which has relied heavily on AstraZeneca.

Mr Morrison last week declined to set a new target date for all Australians to receive their first jabs, as an initial year-end deadline looks out of reach.

The latest tally shows almost 1.5 million vaccines have been administered, in a population of 25.8 million.

The prime minister was not willing to commit to any timeline for when Australia might begin relaxing restrictions on travel, or allow returning Australians to quarantine at home, saying "Australia is in no hurry to open those borders. I'm not going to put at risk the way that Australians are living today," he said.

"We can take small steps - we're not ready to take those steps yet, for Australians to travel and return without quarantining. In a few months from now, we'll see where we're at."